As a forgery painted in the Netherlands about 1925–27, this small canvas is of interest for the history of taste in America. When Jules Bache, who bought the picture in 1928 for $134,800, started assembling his collection in the 1920s, Vermeer was the most desired of the "three prime immortals" of the Dutch school (Cortissoz 1930)—the others being Frans Hals and Rembrandt. The picture's attribution was first doubted by Hale in 1937.
The fabrication of this painting is atypical of the seventeenth century. Analysis reveals the use of a zinc white primer, which was not widely used as an artists' material until the end of the eighteenth century. After the painting was completed, the support was manipulated to induce cracks. A black material, possibly ink, was rubbed into the cracks, and the surface was distressed and retouched in an attempt to simulate an old paint film. Conservator Dorothy Mahon's examination of the paint composition has determined that it is not water-soluble. From this Lopez (2008) concludes that it is not the work of Dutch art forgers Theodorus van Wijngaarden (1874–1952) or Han van Meegeren (1889–1947), painter of the famous Vermeer counterfeit, Christ at Emmaus (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam), both of whom used a gelatin-based pigment in the 1920s. Liedtke (2007) considers the possibility of Van Meegeren's authorship, and notes that the picture was perhaps an early effort by the same painter who made the Woman Reading a Letter, a Vermeer forgery of about 1935 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
[2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Dr. Rademaker, The Hague; [Wildenstein, New York, until 1928; sold for $134,800 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 41; 1943, no. 40)
New York. Reinhardt Galleries. "Paintings of Women and Children by Masters from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century," February 23–March 16, 1929, no. 6 (as "Young Woman Seated Reading a Letter," by Vermeer, lent by Jules S. Bache).
Indianapolis. John Herron Art Museum. "Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century," February 27–April 11, 1937, no. 71 (as by Vermeer, lent by Jules S. Bache).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 40 (as by Vermeer).
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Fakes and Forgeries," July 11–September 29, 1973, no. 81 (as by an imitator of Vermeer).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Berliner Tageblatt (September 21, 1927) [see Ref. Bache 1929].
Vitale Bloch. "Die 'Kleine Briefleserin' des Vermeer." Der Cicerone 20 (June 1928), pp. 357–60, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as by Vermeer.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Jan Vermeer von Delft und Carel Fabritius [second supplement]. Amsterdam, [1929?], pp. 5–6, pl. 52.
Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 259.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 41, ill.
Philip L. Hale. Vermeer. Boston, 1937, pp. 130–31, pl. 20, as "attributed by some critics to Jan Vermeer of Delft".
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), pp. 288, 290.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 40, ill.
Piero Bianconi inL'opera completa di Vermeer. Milan, 1967, p. 99, no. 68, ill. [English ed., 1970], lists it among works attributed to Vermeer that have been rejected by most recent critics.
Fakes and Forgeries. Exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minneapolis, 1973, unpaginated, no. 81, ill., calls it a pastiche, stating that the head and attitude are derived from the "Lady Reading a letter" (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden) and the painting in the background from the "Love Letter" (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
H[orst]. Gerson. "Recent Literature on Vermeer [review of Blankert et al. 1975]." Burlington Magazine 119 (April 1977), p. 289.
Erik Larsen. Jan Vermeer: Catalogo completo. Florence, 1996, p. 126, no. A21, ill. p. 128, catalogues it with works erroneously attributed to Vermeer, noting that it was rejected by Hale [see Ref. 1937] and is now ignored by critics.
Frank Wynne. I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger. New York, 2006, pp. 245, 261, in text, calls it a forgery, possibly by Han van Meegeren; in appendix, erroneously lists it as by Vermeer.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 42, 47–48, fig. 56 (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, p. x; vol. 2, pp. 902–6, no. 207, colorpl. 207, calls it "a forgery painted in the Netherlands about 1925–27".
Jonathan Lopez. The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. Orlando, Fla., 2008, pp. 55–56, 114, 265–66 nn., ill.